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Virtual teams delivering real-world results


By Gary Kaplan, President- North America Construction, AXA XL
COVID-19 has changed the way we work- definitely in the near-term. Possibly forever. In a matter of days (or in some cases even within hours) organizations’ teams were dispersed and set about working remotely. Depending on the organization and the industry, this sudden switch happened with widely varying degrees of success.

It’s a new reality. And it’s forcing us to come up with creative ways to adapt.

Events shifted to online. We’re raising glasses at virtual happy hours. Video conferencing has become a regular occurrence.

So, here’s a new adaptation: Bringing Rapid Results Initiatives (RRI) online. I’m calling them Virtual RRIs or vRRIs. A few years ago, I wrote a piece called It’s All About the Pace, which introduced how AXA XL’s North America Construction team has successfully used RRIs to achieve extraordinary results in a short period of time.

The RRI structure is designed for use in face-to-face groups. Now, with teams working remotely for the foreseeable future, we’re faced with the need to adapt this essential business tool for the world of virtual/remote teams. So, here we go.

But wait. Let’s back up a minute. What exactly is an RRI?

Rapid Results Initiatives (RRIs) are team-based, problem-solving, change-driving machines, which were originally developed by Schaffer Consulting using a defined process called the Rapid Results approach. Typically, an RRI will run for only 90 days in real life (IRL). Because it’s a sprint, the RRI (or vRRI) team needs a tightly focused, result- oriented goal to keep them on track. We’ve been using them for a long time at AXA XL. I stopped counting at 500 separate RRIs. We do them because they work.

Let’s look at adapting this established concept to remote use.

Why would you use a vRRI?
In short, high performing organizations will use Rapid Results approach because they work and you get to see results quickly. When used correctly, applying Rapid Results provides a set of highly effective low risk leadership tools for generating tangible results in only 90 days. And the approach works with any size organization. These short-term projects will help you stimulate progress toward executing strategic, financial and operational plans.

The most critical components for success are sponsorship and management buy-in; the latter may be easier to secure in smaller organizations with fewer bureaucratic layers. But I’ve found that organizational receptivity to Rapid Results is more attributed to culture than size. Remote application will add another cultural variable to consider.

Organizations with a more established remote working culture will likely find it easier to adopt vRRIs. Organizations that are still trying to find their virtual footing may face greater challenges, ranging from comfort levels with remote technology to employee effectiveness working in a remote setting. If that’s the case for your organization, it’s OK. You’ll get them. People are very adaptable; just give them some time.

You can implement a vRRI to accomplish most any organizational goal. For example, you could launch a vRRI to focus on:

• Develop a strategy for entering a new market
• Grow sales within an existing market
• Build teamwork across businesses
• Profitability
• Improve selection of new more profitable business
• Create new or revised products with improved margin
• Expense Management
• Improve efficiency of an existing process

• Demonstrate effective sponsorship skills
• Develop Skills through team leader, facilitator and team member roles
• Build teamwork among team members
• Practice decision making, project management and communications skills

How do you help ensure vRRI success?
As I already said, it’s critical that you secure management buy-in to ensure success. Without it, any vRRI effort could be doomed to fail, especially one that spans the organization involving team members from different businesses and functional areas. I’ve found through my previous experience with in-person RRIs, they are easier to run when you control all of the resources needed for a team, but that rarely is the case. This is the same for the vRRI. Make sure you get that buy-in first!

Management buy-in includes making sure that the individuals in charge of the needed resources understand and support what your vRRI is about. It’s vital they know both the strengths and limitations of a vRRI. You can use information in this article to help develop your own pitch to management, so they know what’s expected of them, the organization and the vRRI team. When making your pitch, be prepared to talk about your sponsorship statement in detail (more on that later), the team you have in mind for the vRRI and what you expect the organization to be able to gain from the vRRI’s outcome.

Without management buy-in, your vRRI effort could be doomed to fail, especially one that spans the organization, involving team members from different businesses and functional areas.

You also need to be sure that your vRRI team members will be given the necessary time needed to participate in it fully. Getting cooperation from supervisors is, of course, a lot easier to get when you have upper management buy-in.

In addition, you need the technology piece to ensure the vRRI will succeed. Whether your organization uses Teams, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, Zoom – you need a platform for virtual engagement and collaboration. Ideally, you will also have the means to share access to needed assets like documents and spreadsheets. This could be SharePoint, a proprietary intranet, or a cloud service like Dropbox.

Philosophy behind the vRRI?
The big operational advantage to the vRRI is its short time frame. An IRL RRI is typically 90 days, no more. Virtual RRIs can be shorter, if your team agrees. But they shouldn’t be any shorter than 60 days because you risk running short of the time you need to achieve the goal. In any event, the sponsorship statement (see below) must consider any changes in the 90-day timeframe.

This short duration accomplishes a couple of things. First, it makes participation manageable for all team members, and their supervisors/departments. Second, it helps position the team to deliver a quantifiable result. People, regardless of function or level, tend to have a hidden reserve of capacity that they can draw upon, when needed. This is especially true when stress is present, i.e. a short 90-day deadline.

When projects have long or indefinite time frames, a natural human tendency is to procrastinate or lose focus. Because of vRRIs condensed format, there is zero room for either. Another critical aspect of the Rapid Results process is the presence of what are called “Zest Factors.”

What in the world is a Zest Factor?
Your vRRI is a Must-Do project and the participants have a short time frame to bring forth the expected result. As a result, the team members feel:
• Challenged and empowered
• A sense of urgency
• Excited, like taking part in a game
• Driven, stakes are high
• Success is near and clear
• Sense of accomplishment

In addition, the Zest Factors inspire the vRRI team members to:
• Work as a cohesive team
• Look for innovative ways to collaborate
• Experiment with new technology
• Ignore red tape
• Question assumptions
• Challenge potential outcomes
• Experiment to quickly determine what works (and what doesn’t)
• Transcend functional and hierarchical boundaries

And what’s the ultimate result of all of this? The RRI drives change at a rapid pace.

How do you set up a virtual RRI?
As the sponsor of the vRRI, you have some things you need to do:
1. Craft the Sponsorship Statement.
2. Assemble the team.
3. Get out of the way.

That final point is important. Let the team do their work. But make sure the team knows your role is to support their efforts and help clear paths, get access to resources and answer questions – the vRRI team needs to know the Sponsor has their collective backs. It’s mission critical that the Sponsor follows through on whatever he or she commits to do. If it simply can’t be done, the Sponsor must provide the team with an explanation why. And quickly. The better the Sponsor supports the vRRI team, the greater the odds of success and the easier it will be to recruit vRRI teams in the future. The success of a vRRI is contagious and, as a result, others will want to participate on a future team.

About the Author

Gary Kaplan is president of AXA XL’s North America Construction business.

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